Child Survivors of the Holocaust

Child Survivors of the Holocaust (CSOH) Melbourne is a group of Jewish adults who, as children, survived the Holocaust in Europe. The group, founded in 1990, has been meeting to share survivors’ stories, support each other and to learn about the consequences of members’ childhood experiences. The group has its home at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne. It is a member of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants (WFJCSHD).

Established by Dr Paul Valent in 1980, and now chaired by Viv Parry, the Melbourne group meets for topical discussions, presentations, events and identity group meetings.

A monthly CSOH newsletter, called Connections, is produced and distributed by post or email with assistance from the JHC. A variety of publications are available as PDFs or for purchase from JHC Publishing.

Contact the CSOH group or to join the mailing list email: admin@jhc.org.au

Keepers of memory

Child survivors lost their early years through an act of genocide and were forced into silence about life-damaging events. But the validation of their experiences through the child survivor support group is restorative for many. As Professor Robert Krell, a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, wrote, much psychological evidence pointed to the fact that, ‘since a child’s foundation for adulthood is predicated on developing feelings of security and trust – based on parental love, the provision of shelter, nourishment and a predictable life all of which unfolds in the first two to three years, dramatic disruption is devastating and long lasting’.

Members of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust Melbourne group have, to the best of their abilities, gone on to establish lives that encompass working in supportive professions such as medicine, psychiatry and law as well as creating businesses. They have also contributed to the arts as writers, artists and poets. They have also importantly, raised families.

Child survivors of the Holocaust remain as not only the last eyewitnesses to the Holocaust but as memory keepers of events in a time and place that should never be forgotten.

Reference: The Interiors of our Memories: A History of Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre by Steven Cooke and Donna-Lee Frieze.

Our 29th Birthday

In 2018, Child Survivors of the Holocaust (CSOH) celebrated its 29th anniversary. This is a personal, but anonymous, view of the organisation’s history delivered on that occasion:

We’ve been going since early 1990. We were mainly in our 50s. Now we’re in our 80s. I’m not saying this to depress you, but to indicate how precious and rare we are. We are a miracle of survival. There are fewer than 100,000 of us around the world, less than 6% of those born between 1930 and 1945. We estimate that there are about 500 child survivors in Melbourne of whom 267 are registered in our group.

What have we been doing? Our mission was expressed well by the mission of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants.

“We are the Jewish children of Europe persecuted during the Nazi era in ghettos, in camps, in hiding, on the run or forced to leave Nazi-occupied Europe. Our objectives are to keep alive the memory of six million Jews, including the 1.5 million children murdered during the Holocaust, and to pass on our legacy to future generations. We pursue these objectives by telling stories of our survival, community interaction, education and conferences.”

I would add that as well as passing on our legacy and telling our stories, which we have done in an atmosphere of mutual trust, we have tried to understand our stories, heal each other and extend our understanding to others.

We have given pools of frozen greyness shape, time and words. Memories begin with words. Let us speak so others will not need to remember the unspeakable.

We have imbibed the words of others. We were privileged to have the two discoverers of child survivors visit us – Sarah Moskovitz in 1993 and Judith Kestenberg in 1995. We heard Hedi Fried from Sweden, Edith Eger and Ervin Staub from the US, Diane Armstrong and Ruth Wainryb from Sydney and Mirka Mora from Melbourne.

There were many others; these are a few to jog our memories.

We’ve had many workshops on topics such as arrival in Australia, growing up in a survivor family, differences between sibling survivors, children surviving hurt, children remembering hurt, transgenerational transmission of trauma and the psychology of perpetrators. The last workshop in August this year was on inter-generational trauma. We have been aware of second and third-generation children.

We provided words to others in our four anthologies, in the many members’ autobiographies, in the SBS documentary film Breaking the Silence, in many stories told to the press, the Jewish Holocaust Centre and Shoah Foundation testimonies and in our regular newsletters. Some of us are guides in the museum and others lecture to schoolchildren.

We have provided artistically through art workshops, Daniel Kogan’s Holocaust painting, the display of Eva Marks’ wall hanging, and a child survivor portrait exhibition.

We have maintained contact with our Sydney sibling group and with the body of child survivors in New York. We took part in the Claims Conference efforts for compensation and we reached out to other traumatised children – Aborigines and those in migrant detention.

Perhaps I’m idealising our achievements, but that is an old man’s privilege, especially at our annual party. In that vein I recall other parties and our willingness to laugh as well as eat.

I am nostalgic too, being a member of our original hard-working committee of many years. Members are Richard Rosen OAM, Danny Gross, Eva Marks, Eva Balogh, Floris Kalman, Bernadette Gore, Frankie Paper, Arie Kalman and Paulette Goldberg. Eva Balogh and Arie Kalman are no longer with us among others. We remember them.

Viv Parry’s devotion keeps us going.

Oh, and we have a future. Those of you who will be alive in 2064 will be able to peer into our time capsule and remember our doings from 50 to 80 years ago!

Child survivor time capsule

In 2014, Melbourne’s child survivors of the Holocaust created a time capsule to commemorate their organisation’s history. The time capsule was sealed for 50 years and will be reopened in May 2064.

Child survivors with family members, grandchildren and other young friends attended a ceremony on Sunday, 25 May 2014. Photos taken of all those present were the last items to be included in the capsule.

It was the sincere wish of all child survivors that their young friends and grandchildren will be present with their own young families in May 2064 to witness the ‘Closing Ceremony’.

The child survivor time capsule is a testament to all child survivors living and past. The triumphs and the tragedies of the young lives embroiled in the Holocaust should never be forgotten or ever doubted.

Child survivors created their own individual pages for inclusion. These could be a family tree, a poem, a personal story or letters.